MACOMB, Ill. — Mike Martz takes it personally. The new St. Louis Rams coach thinks all the buzz about Washington waltzing its way to the Super Bowl is aimed directly at him.
"There's a certain amount of disrespect," says Martz, who stepped up from offensive coordinator when Dick Vermeil stepped down after the Rams capped a storybook season by beating Tennessee 23-16 in last January's Super Bowl. "What that says to me is that this year, we've got a rookie head coach."
Disrespect was the theme of the Rams' camp this year. Ask any player and he'll say the team was ignored in the offseason.
The attention, they say, went to the Redskins as Washington loaded up with members of the Hall of Fame classes of 2006-08 by re-signing Darrell Green and adding Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders. Second in line was Tampa Bay, which traded for Keyshawn Johnson and beefed up its offensive line with Minnesota castoffs Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy.
"I don't know why people think we'll disappear," says defensive tackle D'Marco Farr. "Maybe they think we were imposters."
That perception of the Rams might stem from what they did last year and who they are.
What they did was go from 4-12 to 13-3, then win the franchise's first NFL title since 1951.
"It's a little irritating when you don't get the respect after all you've done," says defensive end Kevin Carter. "All we've heard in the offseason is 'Washington, Washington, Washington,' like we're a fluke one-year team. We're not. There's a lot of talent out here."
Some of that is self-motivation by a team trying to do one of the hardest things in sports — muster the intensity to win a second straight title.
But most football people consider the Rams the team to beat in the NFC, regardless of Washington owner Daniel Snyder's attempt to build what some call "a fantasy-league team."
While the Rams lost two starting offensive linemen to free agency, they think they can plug those holes with Ryan Tucker and Andy McCollum, backups last season.
And no one can match their offensive speed with Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az-zahir Hakim at wide receiver, Marshall Faulk out of the backfield and veteran Ricky Proehl, whose leaping catch won the NFC title game over Tampa, as the possession receiver.
The defense was overlooked in last year's offensive explosion, but is very formidable.
Then there's quarterback Kurt Warner, who is dedicated to proving he's not a one-year wonder. Same said for the Rams as a whole.
"It makes it easier. If we can sneak up on people again, so much the better," Warner says.
Sorry, Kurt. NFL champions don't sneak up on a soul.